Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome

By Nancy C. Andreasen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
MAPPING THE MIND
Using Neuroimaging
to Observe
How the Brain Thinks

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

Nature reveals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster.

—Albert Einstein

I decided to become a psychiatrist in the early 1970s, motivated by a strong desire to do research on major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, and dementia, each of which was fascinating in a different way. Cardiology (another specialty that I liked), appealing in its precision, was too easy by comparison. As a medical student I found mental illnesses to be the most interesting and challenging diseases that I had encountered.What could explain how some people experienced the loss of autonomy over their minds that characterized schizophrenia, leading to the intrusion of alien voices or the theft of their emotional vitality? What caused people to fall into a deep depression, depriving them of all confidence and self-esteem, just when things seemed to be going very well for them? Why did some older people, previously bright and alert, begin to lose their mental capacities, and ultimately their whole personalities, ending in a wordless fetal-like helplessness? Not only were these questions fascinating, but the diseases were very common. Getting a handle on any one of them would help millions of people.

Psychiatry and neurology were closely tied to each other in our medical school at the time, and no one in either department doubted that the three illnesses that interested me were brain diseases. Although the prevailing emphasis in American psychiatry at that time was psychody-

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